Friday, December 23, 2011

Suicide Among Our Finest

The story unfolded in the local media, posted on my Facebook page this afternoon. A major street was closed due to police activity. Police were investigating a possible suicide. A note had been found and the family called police. Officers on the scene were seen wiping their eyes. And finally, the news that the Chief of Police at Eastern Michigan University killed himself today.

This man was well known in the law enforcement community. In addition to the Eastern police force, he had been an officer in Ann Arbor for many years and quite recently did a brief stint at University of Michigan as their police chief. It's likely that most if not all of the responders to this scene knew him personally. My heart goes out to them.

The suicide rate among police officers is, depending upon whom you ask, either higher or lower than in the general population. A study in 2006 found that while the suicide rate for law enforcement was 52% higher than the general population, if you controlled for race, gender and age it was actually 26% lower than the general population. The discrepancy is caused by the fact that police officers are very disproportionately white males between 25 and 55, and that demographic has a suicide rate about twice the population average.

Not surprisingly, most cops who kill themselves do so with a firearm. Most civilians in that demographic do too. That's why men are so much more likely to kill themselves than women -- the method of choice is almost always lethal. Suicide is most common in groups with easy access to lethal weapons, cultural bias against asking for help and a lack of severe cultural bias against suicide. That last factor is what differentiates black males from white males.

Men don't like to ask for help. Cops really don't like to ask for help. So do a favor tonight, would you? If you know and love a cop, ask them how they're doing. If they're fine, fine. At least you've told them you're willing to have the conversation.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call, 24 hours, 7 days a week: 1-800-273-TALK (veterans press 1 at the prompt). Help is available. You just need to ask.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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